Jews v Zionism

Kit Robinson was one of one hundred who attended a meeting to discuss the Middle East

On June 18 around 100 people crowded into a meeting at the University of London Union, called by of Jews Against Zionism, to hear Lenni Brenner, Haim Bresheeth and Alice Coy speak about various aspects of the Middle East question.

The publicity for the meeting noted that Jews Against Zionism believes that “… the conflict in Palestine cannot be resolved without a return of Palestinian refugees and dismantlement of the Zionist structure of the state of Israel; and that this is impossible in the context of ‘two states’ and a repartition of Palestine.” But, while the first of these contentions was not particularly controversial among those who attended, the second will likely give rise to lively debate at future meetings promised by the organisers to follow up this successful event.

The first speaker was Alice Coy, a young Jewish member of the International Solidarity Movement, who has been active as a ‘human shield’ in the occupied territories, seeking by the presence of herself and her comrades to inhibit Israeli ill-treatment and killing of the Palestinians suffering Israeli rule. She gave a moving account of the ISM’s activities, and of the callous manner in which the Israeli forces, as well as inflicting untold suffering on Palestinians, have killed international volunteers such as Rachel Corrie and left others like Tom Hurndall in a coma. She spoke at length about the Palestinian experience of living under Israeli military occupation and about the very positive response from many Palestinians to the presence of Jewish activists among the international volunteers who have come to express solidarity with them.

The second speaker was Haim Bresheeth, professor of cultural studies at the University of East London and an activist and film-maker of Israeli origin. He made very clear that he personally had developed politically from someone who had originally, as a peace activist, gone from sincerely believing that at least a wing of the Israeli establishment wanted some kind of peace with the Palestinians, to a complete rejection of Israel as a national entity that can exist other than in perpetual conflict with the Palestinians. He was therefore very much in favour of a single Palestine and Israel’s ceasing to exist.

Although he made many powerful points about the reactionary nature of Zionism, the conclusions he appears to have drawn seem to imply a lack of any role for the Israeli population. He stated that Sharon’s policies were ruining the Israeli economy to the point that somehow Israelis must be driven ‘to their senses’ - which seems to me to be a bit Panglossian - economic collapse may bring not progress, but an intensification of reaction. All in all, a thoughtful speech, full of justified hatred for Zionist atrocities, but very much the perspective of someone who has left Israel, I thought.

The main speaker, however, was Lenni Brenner. The author of a number of books about Zionism and the Jewish question, including his notable Zionism in the age of the dictators from the 1980s, a book which provided the factual material on which Jim Allen’s controversial play Perdition was based. He was there to promote his new, seemingly weighty work, 51 documents: Zionist collaboration with the Nazis. His speech was based around a number of these documents, which comprise original source material initially gathered for Zionism in the age of the dictators, among which was a highly revealing passage, in which the Nazi mass killer Adolf Eichmann praises Zionism, to the extent of saying that ‘if he were Jewish’, he would be ‘a fanatical Zionist himself’ or words to that effect.

The damning historical implications of this statement were not lost on the largely Jewish audience, but nor was the humorous side, as related by comrade Brenner - the ultimate ‘celebrity endorsement’ in the American fashion, as he called it, bringing forth considerable laughter.

The discussion period consisted of a number of questions, and one or two contributions from Israeli-derived leftists such as Just Peace (UK), whose presence was really an indication of the impact of the events of the past few years in stretching the loyalty of progressive Israelis to ‘their’ state. The historical focus of the main speakers meant that the discussion was more confined to these historical topics: the vast and potentially very productive subject of socialist political strategies - one state, two states, binational states, the relationship of the national question to the socialist revolution, etc - will be discussed at future meetings promised by the organisers, to which I for one am looking forward.

Of note was the absence of comrades from the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty in the meeting. The AWL had a team of paper-sellers outside at the start, but apparently, given the large, mainly Jewish audience, were somehow reluctant to play out their usual, rather stupid trick of denouncing the organisers as being ‘left’ anti-semites. Maybe they (correctly) considered that such an intervention would have gone down like a lead balloon with this particular audience.